12 kidney swap patients meet for the first time

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The donors and recipients of a 12-person kidney exchange met for the first time at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. (WLS)

Hugs, tears and laughter filled the room Wednesday when the donors and recipients of a twelve-person kidney exchange met for the first time at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

The rare organ transplant chain involved the friends and family members of patients who were not matches for their loved ones but who still wanted to help provide healthy kidneys to those in need.

The six pairs included three sets of friends, an aunt and niece, second cousins and one Good Samaritan who all came together to make the elaborate swap possible.

"I'm just looking at her and holding her hand; it's remarkable to think that my kidney's inside of her," said 19-year-old Philip Cameli as he met his kidney recipient, Clotilde Ruiz, 59, for the very first time. "I hope she just takes it and runs with it."

Cameli originally wanted to donate his kidney to his friend, Brendan Flaherty, who had been waiting for a kidney transplant for six years. Cameli was not a match for Flaherty, but medical staff at Northwestern Memorial Hosptial's Kidney Transplantation Department used a computer algorithm to match Flaherty to a Good Samaritan donor named Kimberly

"To know that you're going to be saving a life, you don't need a cape for that," Cooper said after hugging Flaherty for the first time.

Cooper's donation set off the chain that ended in the successful live donations of six healthy kidneys.
The surgeries took place at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Kidney Transplantation Department between Wednesday and Friday of last week and involved dozens of nurses, doctors and other medical staff.

Dr. Joseph Leventhal, Director of Kidney Transplantation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said the massive organ swap shows how important living donations can be for patients and their families.

"I think it speaks to the power of living donation," Leventhal said. "That it can really create access to transplant that can otherwise be very difficult."

Leventhal said all of the patients were recovering well from their surgeries and he hopes others might be inspired to consider organ donation in the future.

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